CCL 2014-15: Group 8 Preview – America, Comunicaciones & Puerto Rico Bayamon FC
The final installment of OTF’s CCL 2014-15 preview series takes in Group 8…
It is the last of the CCL groups, but not the least: no group containing a five-time CONCACAF champion club, América, can be diminished in that way.
It doesn’t look the most competitive group on the tournament, but América’s reputation and current form would make it favorite in any set of three teams in the region. Cruz Azul is OTF’s pre-tournament favorite to win the tournament, but that is in part due to respect for the reigning CCL champions, and partially because América seemed to have all the same advantages last year, and the 2013-14 regional campaign did not end well.
Group 8: América, Comunicaciones, Puerto Rico Bayamón FC
América is the best team in Mexico at the moment: three wins to start the new season from a squad overrun with international-class talent and guided by a charismatic and successful coach.
If it feels like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have: last year, América was running rampant in Liga MX when CCL kicked off; the squad was stacked; the coach was Miguel Herrera.
This year, while a few big names have moved on, Las Águilas picked up several quality replacements, though none perhaps as significant as Oribe Peralta. His arrival and Raúl Jiménez’s slightly surprising failure to leave has given America what could easily be El Tri‘s front two at the 2016 Copa Centenario.
The new coach, Antonio Mohamed, is the man who brought Club Tijuana into the Liga MX limelight. A brief return home to Argentina didn’t work as well as hoped, so he’s back in Mexico with even greater resources than he had before.
Mohamed didn’t have the best start to his time in charge of the Mexican superclub: fifth in the 2014 Clausura and bounced out of the Liguilla by Santos Laguna in the first round doesn’t pass for success with América’s fans.
He is expected to do better in the Apertura, but there may also be some pressure to restore some pride to Las Águilas‘ performance in the regional tournament. Cruz Azul won its sixth CONCACAF club championship title last year, making La Máquina the most successful team in the history of the confederation.
América has five regional titles to its name, but Pachuca – also in this year’s tournament – already has four in its trophy cabinet, all of which have been won since 2002.
It will be surprising if Las Águilas are not fully invested in a serious run at CCL this year, not just because it is a club that expects to win things every season, but also because its reputation as one of the best teams in the region is slowly being eroded.
Comunicaciones won CONCACAF Champions’ Cup back in 1978, though that was the year Mexico’s Leones Negros (Universidad de Guadalajara) and Trinidad’s Defence Force also won – there was no final round, so the remaining teams in the competition were joint-winners.
The Guatemalans haven’t been back to a final round since, but have made four of the last seven tournaments. Their last trip beyond the the group stage was the 2009-10 edition, when they lost in the quarterfinals that year’s winner, Pachuca.
Last year, Comunicaciones found itself in a similar group to this one: a Liga MX side and a Caribbean contender. Los Cremas were too strong for Caledonia AIA and not strong enough to challenge Toluca.
This is the second consecutive year the team is in CCL as winner of both Guatemala’s league titles, but the club has not stood still for the new season
The most prominent reinforcements to the squad are attacking players: Enrique Miranda, who San Jose Earthquakes fans may remember as the man who scored the goal that beat their team on its visit to Heredia last year; Panamanian international forward, Rolando Blackburn, a fringe member of Los Canaleros‘ Gold Cup runner-up squad; veteran depth arrived in the form of Mexican Agustín Herrera, who moved to Guatemala last season after a few years bouncing around teams in Ascenso MX and scored 20 goals in 41 appearances for Coatepeque.
The extra firepower ought to be sufficient to keep Comunicaciones on track for another league title (the club has four points from its first three games of the new season), while simultaneously giving a good account of itself in CCL.
Puerto Rico Bayamón FC is here because it won the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship group it hosted. The group comprised the champions of the Cayman Islands and Curaςao, and the fourth-best team in Guadeloupe.
Bayamón made hard work of what looked a lightweight draw, squeaking through on goal difference. How four of the weakest-looking teams in the Caribbean ended up in the same group is a question for the CFU, but the Puerto Ricans have made an effort to put their good fortune to good use.
A strategic agreement with Costa Rican heavyweights Saprissa was announced in July, and the most immediate evidence of the new relationship would appear to be the arrival of four Costa Ricans on Bayamón’s roster: former Tico forward Andy Furtado, defender Michael Rodríguez (who spent a little time with Seattle Sounders in their pre-MLS days), midfielder Saúl Phillips (part of Saprissa’s 2005 World Club Cup squad), and defender Daniel Arce.
The rest of the squad (for now) is largely players with experience of the lower leagues in the US, but the club casts an impressively wide net for its talent.
Colombian midfielder Yoximar Granado had trials with Colorado and Chicago in MLS, but most of his professional experience to date has been with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in NASL. Defender Luis Calíx spent a little time last year in the Honduran top flight. Striker Dwayne Phidd was once on the fringes of the Jamaica national team. Spaniard Alberto Liñán was a NAIA standout for Missouri Valley College.
The club has (or maybe, had) plans to join NPSL – the fourth tier of US soccer (which would presumably preclude future entry to CCL, unless Bayamón wins US Open Cup) – so it remains to be seen how committed the players are to the long-term future of this team.
Group 8 Upset Outlook: LOW
It takes a special optimism to see either Comunicaciones or Bayamón troubling América in this group. Sure, Las Águilas were similarly prohibitive favorites this time last year and left CCL, deftly humbled by Alajuelense.
But there are two ways to read what happened in 2013-14: América wasn’t treating CCL as a priority, or Alajuelense was much better than expected.
The truth is probably somewhere in between: Las Águilas weren’t treating anything as a priority by the end of the 2013, when Miguel Herrera had basically converted the club into a proxy training camp for El Tri; and by the time Herrera noticed Alajuelense deserved greater respect than he had imagined, it was too late.
Neither Comunicaciones nor Bayamón looks to have the primary attribute of Alajuelense: a solid, determined defense. The Puerto Ricans’ priority must be to avoid humiliation, and the Guatemalans aren’t so different from the team that couldn’t get past Toluca last year.
América’s priority should be to chase 12 points with a very healthy goal difference, and to try to secure the top seed heading into the CCL quarterfinals. For Las Águilas, anything less than the second or third best record overall in the group stage will constitute an upset. Not getting out of this group is unconscionable.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
América: Ventura Alvarado
The 21-year-old center back is twice an American: born in Phoenix, AZ and on Las Águilas‘ books since 2008. He spent last season on loan with Necaxa in Ascenso MX, but he’s back with his parent club for the 2014-15 season.
He’s some distance down the depth chart at America, so a weak CCL group might be his best opportunity for minutes this year.
Comunicaciones: Paolo Suárez
Puerto Rico Bayamón FC: Andy Furtado
The 33-year-old forward was threatening to be a big deal when he was scoring goals in the 2009 Hexagonal for Costa Rica, but a failed drugs test curtailed his international career, and he’s been a bit of a CONCACAF journeyman ever since.
Still, he’s a player who was once capable of getting past international defenses, and Bayamón don’t have many of them on the roster.
Group 8, Matchday 1: August 7 – Comunicaciones vs. Puerto Rico Bayamón FC – 9:00 pm (Chicago time)
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Austin Fido tweets CCL and other things @canetop.